The method of drop coalescence is being investigated for use as a method for determining the viscosity of highly viscous undercooled liquids. Low gravity environment is necessary in this case to minimize the undesirable effects of body forces and liquid motion in levitated drops. Also, the low gravity environment will allow for investigating large liquid volumes which can lead to much higher accuracy for the viscosity calculations than possible under 1 – g conditions. The drop coalescence method is preferred over the drop oscillation technique since the latter method can only be applied for liquids with vanishingly small viscosities. The technique developed relies on both the highly accurate solution of the Navier-Stokes equations as well as on data from experiments conducted in near zero gravity environment. In the analytical aspect of the method two liquid volumes are brought into contact which will coalesce under the action of surface tension alone. The free surface geometry development as well as its velocity during coalescence which are obtained from numerical computations are compared with an analogous experimental model. The viscosity in the numerical computations is then adjusted to bring into agreement of the experimental results with the calculations. The true liquid viscosity is the one which brings the experiment closest to the calculations. Results are presented for method validation experiments performed recently on board the NASA/KC-135 aircraft. The numerical solution for this validation case was produced using the Boundary Element Method. In these tests the viscosity of a highly viscous liquid, in this case glycerine at room temperature, was determined to high degree of accuracy using the liquid coalescence method. These experiments gave very encouraging results which will be discussed together with plans for implementing the method in a shuttle flight experiment.
A number of research teams have observed that glass forming melts that are solidified in low-g exhibit enhanced glass formation. This project will examine one of these glasses, the heavy metal fluoride glass ZBLAN. A four year ground based research program has been approved to examine the crystallization of ZBLAN glasses with the purpose of testing a theory for the crystallization of ZBLAN glass. The theory could explain the general observations of enhanced glass formation of other glasses melted and solidified in low-g. Fluid flow in 1-g results from buoyancy forces and surface tension driven convection. This fluid flow can introduce shear in undercooled liquids in 1-g. In low-g it is known that fluid flows are greatly reduced so that the shear rate in fluids in low-g are extremely low. It is believed that fluids may have some weak structure in the absence of flow. Even very small shear rates could cause this structure to collapse in response to the shear. A general result would be shear thinning of the fluid. The hypothesis of this research is that: Shear thinning in undercooled liquids increases the rate of nucleation and crystallization of glass forming melts. Shear of the melt can be reduced in low-g enhancing undercooling and glass formation. Samples will be melted and quenched in 1-g under quiescent conditions at a number of controlled cooling rates to determine times and temperatures of crystallization and heated at controlled heating rates to determine kinetic crystallization parameters. Experiments will also be performed on the materials while under controlled vibration conditions and compared with the quiescent experiments in order to evaluate the effect of shear in the liquid on crystallization kinetics. After the experimental parameters are well known, experiments will be repeated under low-g (and 2-g) conditions on the KC-135 aircraft during low-g parabolic maneuvers. The results will determine the effects of shear on crystallization. Our experimental setups will be designed with low-g experiments in mind and will be tested as breadboard low-g experiments. It is very likely that the thermal analysis instrumentation can be adapted to be run in the microgravity glovebox facilities. Critical space experiments may result to test the theory at longer low-g time experiments in space.
The concept of using low gravity experimental data together with fluid dynamical numerical simulations for measuring the viscosity of highly viscous liquids was recently validated on the International Space Station (ISS). After testing the proof of concept for this method with parabolic flight experiments, an ISS experiment was proposed and later conducted onboard the ISS in July, 2004 and subsequently in May of 2005. In that experiment a series of two liquid drops were brought manually together until they touched and then were allowed to merge under the action of capillary forces alone. The merging process was recorded visually in order to measure the contact radius speed as the merging proceeded. Several liquids were tested and for each liquid several drop diameters were used. It has been shown that when the coefficient of surface tension for the liquid is known, the contact radius speed can then determine the coefficient of viscosity for that liquid. The viscosity is determined by fitting the experimental speed to theoretically calculated contact radius speed for the same experimental parameters. Experimental and numerical results will be presented in which the viscosity of different highly viscous liquids were determined, to a high degree of accuracy, using this technique.